Santosh Trophy: Kerala, Bengal cruise into semis

Kerala registered a 3-0 win over Maharashtra while Bengal defeated Chandigarh 1-0 as both teams cruised into the semifinals of the Santosh Trophy.

Kerala players celebrate after scoring against Maharashtra on Sunday.   -  AIFF Media

Kerala and Bengal won their respective Group B matches on Sunday to advance to the Santosh Trophy semifinals. Kerala recorded a convincing 3-0 victory over Maharashtra, while Bengal beat Chandigarh 1-0.

Both teams gathered nine points apiece from three wins, but Kerala topped the table because of a better goal difference.

At the Sailen Manna Stadium, Howrah, Kerala rode on a spectacular performance from M. S. Jithin to secure anther big win. It was a contest of different styles as Kerala displayed its flamboyant game, while Maharashtra relied on ball control.

Kerala showed good intensity as it weaved attacks right from the start. With Seesan S. performing his duty of distribution well, Rahul K. P. and Anurag P. C. combined nicely on the right to trouble the Maharashtra defence time and again.

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Maharashtra kept its post safe for a considerable period primarily due to the alertness of its goRalkeeper Dion Menzes, who single-handedly thwarted a free-kick and two close attempts by Jithin Gopalan and Afdal V. K. inside the first 20 minutes.

However, Kerala’s persistence paid off in the 23rd minute. Afdal was brought down inside the box and Rahul V. Raj converted the resultant penalty to put the southern side ahead.

Jithin raised his game at the right time to double the lead in the 39th minute. On receiving an excellent ball, the versatile forward marched ahead and beat the goalkeeper amidst stiff challenge. Another beautiful move ended with Rahul finding the net but the midfielder was flagged for being off-side.

Maharashtra’s efforts to open its account were hampered by its slow build-up of moves, which allowed the Kerala players to fall back easily and strengthen their defence.
It missed a golden opportunity shortly after the breather. Ranjeet Singh had a chance at the goal mouth but the substitute failed to connect.

With Jithin and Rahul doing some hard running upfront, Kerala maintained its tempo for most part of the second half. They combined to fetch the third goal. Jithin ran fast on the right to send in a cross and an unmarked Rahul made no mistake in rolling it past a Menezes in the 58th minute and seal a 3-0 win.

At the Mohun Bagan ground, Bengal banked on Bidyashagar Singh’s lone goal to garner full points against Chandigarh.

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